Kenneth Mars, 1936-2011

Kenneth Mars, 1936-2011 (photo)

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On my parents’ first date in 1968, they went to see Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.” I often wonder how differently things would have gone if they hadn’t picked such a great movie. What if they’d gone to “The Love Bug” instead? Would I even be here now? Maybe not.

Not surprisingly, then, I have a soft spot in my heart for “The Producers.” My favorite scene has always been the one in which scheming Broadway entrepreneurs Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) go to meet the writer of the play they believe has the best chance to become the biggest flop in theater history. The play is “Springtime For Hitler,” a “gay romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden.” The writer is former Nazi turned paranoid bird collector Franz Liebkind. Liebkind was played, in a Comedy Hall of Fame performance, by Kenneth Mars, who sadly passed away yesterday after a fight with pancreatic cancer at the age of 75. Here is that scene.

Mars’ role is maybe the most important role in “The Producers.” It’s certainly the trickiest, since he’s got to play a funny and even sympathetic Nazi. The film’s whole conceit falls apart if we don’t laugh at — and kind of like — Franz Liebkind. Mars made it work by striking just the right notes of madness and innocence. Franz’s intentions aren’t good, but they are, in a very twisted way, sort of pure: he just wants people to know “the real Hitler,” who was such a good dancer and painter (“Hitler, there was a painter! He could paint an entire apartment in one afternoon: two coats!“). And that’s how Mars played him. Really, Franz is kind of sweet. You almost feel bad for the way these shysters are treating him. And he’s the Nazi!

That sort of charmingly harmless villain in the Liebkind-mold became something of a Mars trademark. He worked with Brooks again in “Young Frankenstein,” playing Inspector Kemp, the man on the trail of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster who is constantly at war with his own mechanical limbs (and thus poses no threat to our heroes). He did a lot of television, voiced a lot of cartoons. He often gave performances better than the material he was in deserved. By the time he joined the “Police Academy” series for “City Under Siege,” the franchise was totally played out. But that didn’t stop him from being hysterically funny as the Mayor and — SPOILER ALERT! — the film’s surprise twist villain. As the Mayor, he has a hilarious tic: he constantly forgets incredibly obvious words, letting Mars riff and fumble every line of dialogue he’s got. And when he’s finally unmasked, “Scooby-Doo” style, he giggles and taunts the heroes with infectious glee. Sure he’s evil, but he’s just having so much fun!

Mars made it look easy, but it wasn’t. For proof, check out the 2005 remake of “The Producers,” based on the very successful Broadway musical. Will Ferrell plays Franz Liebkind and, for one of the very few times in his career, he’s just not funny. Too much mania, not enough heart. Most of the “Producers” remake cast, imported from Broadway, had long made their parts their own. But watching the new “Producers,” we miss Kenneth Mars. Now more than ever before.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.